Trump infrastructure plan includes I-70 corridor

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily
While a federal infrastructure plan for the Interstate 70 mountain corridor identified the already-finished express lane in Clear Creek County as a potential project, officials in the region say they'll welcome any federal money that comes this way.
Seth Levy | Special to the Daily

Will this happen?

Before President Donald Trump was sworn into office, his team developed a list of 50 infrastructure projects that could receive new funding. In the West, those projects include:

• Interstate 70: $1 billion for improvements in the mountain corridor.

• Interstate 25: $1 billion for improvements between Castle Rock and Monument.

• A 1,000-turbine wind energy project in south-central Wyoming. Estimate: $5 billion.

• An electric transmission line between Wyoming California, Nevada and Arizona. Estimate: $3 billion.

The estimated price of all $50 projects is $137.5 billion, with 50 percent coming from private investment.

Source: McClatchy Washington Bureau.

EAGLE COUNTY — Transportation planners in Colorado for years have been doing a lot of planning. The problem is lack of funding. That just might change in the near future.

Before taking office, President Donald Trump’s team documented 50 potential infrastructure projects around the country. Those projects include rebuilding canal locks, bridges and airports. The projects also include two of Colorado’s stickiest transportation problems along the interstate system.

Perhaps the biggest problem is along Interstate 25 from Castle Rock south to Monument. State transportation planners have long hoped to widen that stretch of interstate, a project that has gained more urgency after two Colorado State Patrol officers were killed along that stretch of road in a bit more than a year between 2015 and 2016.

State officials say the project would require about $500 million, money the department currently doesn’t have.

In addition to I-25, the plan also targeted a stretch of Interstate 70 through the mountain corridor. The plan proposes a third lane eastbound through Clear Creek County.

And yes, that lane is already operating.

Other ideas

Still, the prospect of an infusion of federal funds has state transportation officials and others looking more closely at future plans for I-70.

In an email, Colorado Department of Transportation Director of Communications Amy Ford wrote that the department didn’t directly contribute to the project list. But, she added, the state has a 10-year development plan that includes a number of projects, including the Castle Rock to Monument section of I-25 and a number of projects along I-70.

At the top of the list for I-70 is a westbound express lane through Clear Creek County from Idaho Springs to Empire. That project is now in its very early stages of planning. Improvements also are envisioned at Floyd Hill between Idaho Springs and Evergreen.

The I-70 Coalition is a group of local governments and businesses along the mountain corridor. That group isn’t part of the Colorado Department of Transportation but does work closely with the state agency.

Coalition Director Margaret Bowes said the group agrees with the department of transportation’s ideas for mountain corridor improvements. That means the westbound express lane comes first.

Bowes said coalition members believe that any improvements need to align with a federal “record of decision” for the corridor. That document took more than a decade to complete.

While no money for any infrastructure projects has been appropriated yet — that’s the job of Congress — Bowes said “we’ll take any federal money we can get.”

Getting ‘shovel-ready’

Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan is the county’s representative to the I-70 Coalition. Ryan agreed that the westbound express lane should be the first priority if any federal money comes this way.

But, Ryan added, once that project is finished, she’d like to see design work start on climbing lanes for eastbound I-70 over Vail Pass. Those lanes — not one continuous lane, but sections where a third lane could be added — could help better separate heavy trucks and cars, especially on the steeper sections of the pass.

Having transportation projects all or mostly designed will be essential if federal money becomes available, Ryan said.

Design work takes money, of course, and Ryan said local governments need to help the state.

The Vail Pass climbing lane project will cost about $500,000 to design, and the county will be expected to contribute a portion of that cost.

But designed projects can turn into finished projects.

In the first decade of this century, Eagle County, the Edwards Metropolitan District and other entities provided funding to help the state design a project at the Edwards interchange. There was no money to do the work when the design was completed. But, when Congress and President Barack Obama launched an infrastructure program in 2009, having a nearly “shovel-ready” project was key to receiving funding for three roundabouts and other improvements at the interchange. It also helped that the Edwards interchange is viewed as a point of access to the interstate system.

Again, nothing is certain about this plan. Still, Ryan said, what she’s heard is encouraging.

“What it shows is that I-70 and I-25 are on (the federal) radar screen,” Ryan said. “These are Colorado priorities and they understand that.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, and @scottnmiller.